The Year Of Living Chaotically
Julie arrived in Puerto Rico with a newly minted diploma that conferred upon her the degree of Doctor of Philosophy and all the honors, rights, and privileges pertaining thereto; a University of Puerto Rico first semester schedule of classes she was to teach; her luggage; and just enough cash to rent a hotel room for the night – if a hotel room in Puerto Rico didn’t cost much more than the Milwaukee Holiday Inn where she had stayed the previous year while attending a presentation on Dramaturgy In Victorian England.
Although Philip had disappeared, along with the money from their joint account and their car they had agreed to sell to a neighbor, Julie realized, somewhat gratefully, that she had little choice other than following the plan to move to Puerto Rico. The teaching position was her only immediately available source of income, the airline tickets were already purchased, and the house in which they had been living had been sold. In any case, she had no idea where Philip might be. He had left only a note indicating that she had pushed him to desperate albeit ambiguous measures and instructing her “not to worry about [him].”
So, after a lifetime spent in small towns in Texas and the Midwest, Julie was, alone, starting a new chapter of her life in Puerto Rico. One should keep in mind that at this time, cultural sensitivity meant little more than abstaining from the use of derogatory ethnic nicknames. Julie’s orientation to her new environment consisted of a form letter from the University explaining administrative policies (e.g., salary payment, health insurance, and sick days) and a brochure from a local tourist office welcoming her to “Sunny Puerto Rico.” The brochure had the advantage of being printed in English.
Her job description, as contracted, emphasized that hers was a position teaching English Literature to students already fluent in and comfortable with the English language and made much of the stipulation that those enrolling in the classes she would teach would be required to comprehend English written and spoken at the collegiate level. On the first day of classes, Julie asked each student to explain what he or she hoped to accomplish by taking the course. The most sophisticated response she received that day was, “To speak better the Engling.” She spent that night alternating between crying and revising her curriculum.
Sans spouse and low on funds, Julie searched for and found a roommate who was also a faculty member. Maria, were she not a massive corporal entity, could easily have been a character in a Hunter S. Thompson story. She was a academic star with a recently granted doctorate from Yale. Having already authored a dozen scholarly articles in respected journals, she also had an advance from a major publisher for the novel she was writing. She was also loud, dedicated to the concept of sexual freedom in theory and practice, aggressively friendly except when she was intoxicated (during which time she was just aggressive), and intoxicated most of the time.
As disruptive as Maria proved to be, she was only one more river flowing into the ocean of cultural changes that flooded Julie. Rather than operating under explicit and implicit restrictions that pervaded every aspect of her life growing up in the Bible Belt, Julie was adrift in a culture that viewed a given schedule or a specific deadline as one of many possibilities. Here, drivers obeyed or ignored the rules of the road whimsically, left their cars parked in the middle of traffic while they shopped, and honked their horns when they were happy, angry, sad, frustrated, or bored. Men and women in expensive European clothing stepped over impoverished counterparts camped on the sidewalk without breaking stride or the flow of their conversation. (Another teacher casually explained that without severe winter weather to eliminate the weak and infirm among the vagrants, their numbers were significantly higher than one would otherwise expect.) The Spanish Julie had learned in two semesters of college appeared to have little in common with the local argot, and ethnological differences were even more puzzling. It was only weeks into her classes that Julie understood that her students’ smiling faces and wrinkled noses meant they had no idea what she was saying. Her students’ interests seemed engaged with school matters only when they were protesting a failing grade given because they failed to turn in any work, take any tests, or attend any classes.
Through all this she was attempting to at least stay in touch with her daughter as well as locate Philip, from whom she would sporadically receive letters emblazoned with postmarks from a variety of towns.
For the first time in her life, Julie began to lose track of the time and date, misunderstand instructions, miss appointments, and call students by the wrong names. She also became increasingly pessimistic about teaching and developing friendships.
Julie held on to complete her teaching contract, turned down the renewal offer, and took the first flight back to the States with the self-avowed goal of putting her life back together.
Personally tracking down Philip, she had decided, was the first step toward accomplishing this task.
Julie Showalter was the fiercely intelligent, sexy, and loving woman with whom I had a outrageously wonderful marriage that ended with her death in late 1999 from cancer diagnosed the week of our wedding nearly 20 years earlier. She was also a brilliant scholar, the mother of our two sons, and a prize-winning author. Many posts on this blog are about her and still others consist of her writings. Julie’s Story is the account of our unlikely romance, Information can be found at Julie Showalter FAQ.
Note: Originally posted April 26, 2006 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of AllanShowalter.com